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St. Justin Martyr: An Echo of the Apostles

Jim Anderson
May 31, 2024 No Comments

One of the greatest benefits of reading the early Church Fathers is their witness to the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians. The writings of St. Justin Martyr, the patron saint of Catholic apologists, are a fascinating window into the early Church. Justin was born c. AD 100 to a pagan family in Flavia Neapolis, the present-day Nablus, on the West Bank. After exploring several schools of philosophy, he was converted to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, c. AD 132, through the witness of an elderly Christian man while walking along the seashore. St. Justin began to travel around the Roman Empire teaching the truths of Christianity, eventually settling in Rome and founding a Christian school. Around the year AD 165, after debating with the Cynic philosopher Crescens, Justin was denounced to the Roman prefect. Along with six companions, he was beheaded for his faith in Christ.

In his First Apology, written c. AD 150, he describes the Mass as it was celebrated in his day, bearing many similarities to ours over 1,800 years later:

“[At] the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves…and for all others in every place…having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the presider of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying, ‘Amen’. And when the presider has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” [First Apology, chap. 65]

St. Justin further testifies to the established understanding of both baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist:

“And this food is called Εὐχαριστία [Eucharist], and no one is permitted to partake of it, except those who believe that what has been taught us is true, and have been washed [baptized] for the remission of sins and unto regeneration, and thus live as Christ handed down. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” [First Apology, chap. 66]

Having written the following almost 175 years before the time of Constantine, St. Justin also provides a strong witness against the assertion that Constantine imposed Sunday worship upon Christians:

“But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead” [First Apology, chap. 67].

There are certainly a multitude of other examples in his writings that illustrate the consistency and continuity of the Catholic Church’s practices and teaching throughout the centuries. Ultimately, St. Justin Martyr (and all the Church Fathers) have passed down a lasting witness of how Scripture and Sacred Tradition were faithfully lived out by our  ancient brothers and sisters who still had the voices of the Apostles echoing in their hearts.

St. Justin Martyr, pray for us!

Jim Anderson

Jim Anderson is Ministry Membership and Pastoral Care Coordinator for The Coming Home Network.

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